The psychologist Ulric Neisser stood out for being an important figure in cognitive psychologybeing even considered the father of this branch of psychology.
Although his first intention was to study physics, he soon realized that what really interested him was psychology. So, after completing his doctorate, he began to work as a teacher of this discipline and to study various processes of human cognition. In particular, he focused on the study of the capacity of perception, attention and memory and various aspects related to intelligence.
In this article you will find a biography of Ulric Neissera summary of the most relevant events in his life and his main contributions to psychology.
Brief biography of Ulric Neisser
Ulric Richard Gustav Neisser was born on December 8, 1928 in Kiel, a city in northern Germany. Her father, Hans, was a professor of economics at the University of Kiel and her mother, Charlotte, was a sociologist. Ulreich was the younger of two siblings, his sister Marianne was 4 years older.
The religious beliefs of his Jewish father and the greater strength of the Nazis in Germany made the Neisser family decide. moved to the United States in 1933, specifically in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. From an early age, Ulric showed an interest in science, encouraged by his father to do so.
Already in the United States, Neisser began his university studies at Harvard. His original intention was to get a degree in physics, but as he became interested in different areas of education, he was quickly drawn to psychology. Throughout his psychological training, he became familiar with different branches of psychology such as psychoanalysis, behavioral psychology or gestalt psychology, especially the latter. In 1950 he graduated in psychology.
After graduating, he wanted to continue his education and start a master’s degree at Swarthmore College, with the intention of being able to work with one of the founders of Gestalt psychology. He obtained his master’s degree two years later, in 1952. He then completed a doctorate at the same university where he had studied at Harvard. He obtained his doctorate in 1956.
After completing his training, he worked as a professor at Harvard University for a year, before accepting teach at Brandeis University Middlesex. In this new institution, Neisser was able to broaden his knowledge of psychology, associating with such distinguished psychologists as Abraham Maslow, considered the founder of humanistic psychology.
Another person who influenced Neisser’s life, his way of understanding psychology, was Oliver Selfridge, who was a big proponent of artificial intelligence. They both became friends and Neisser He began working as a consultant at Lincoln Laboratories at MIT., where Selfridge worked as a computer scientist, thus beginning the development of a common program. In 1960, they published an article in the journal Scientific American in which they presented the pandemonium model of pattern recognition. Thanks to the publication of this model, they received various scholarships, which allowed them to extend their study to other areas of psychology related to human thought.
In 1967, he published what would become his most famous book, Cognitive Psychology.. Soon after, he began teaching at Cornell University in Ithaca. At this university he studied human perception and memory. At the age of 55, in 1983, Cornell left to work at Emory University in Atlanta. During this time, he developed one of his most notable memory experiments, known as the “Challenger,” and founded the “Emory Cognition Project.” Finally, in 1996, he decided to return to Cornell University, where he would work until his retirement. .
Despite its links with cognitive psychology, the author began to show doubts about certain practices in this field.. These doubts appeared with the publication, in 1976, of the book “Cognition and Reality” where the author raised three critical points of cognitive psychology. First, he disagreed with the emphasis on information processing models, second, he believed that cognitivism did not value the everyday aspects of subjects’ lives, and third, he understood that cognitive psychology lagged behind other types of psychology such as developmental and direct psychology. Perception.
As well, in 1981 he became interested in the case of John Dean, who was an adviser to the President. Dean testified about the Watergate case, and comparing his testimony with the actual information showed that what he said was distorted. Neisser studied the case and pointed out that the memory that a person shows of an event must be understood as an active process, where not only the information of the facts but also the emotional state that shows the subject influences.
In 1995 led a group work at the American Psychological Association that focused on reviewing intelligence studies, focusing in particular on the information presented in the book “The Bell Curve”. A year later, in 1996, the psychologist gave a lecture at Emory University on the influence of the environment on variations in intelligence scores. In 1998 he published a book related to the study of intelligence called “The Rising Curve: Long Term Gains in IQ and Related Measure”.
Neisser was a Fellow of the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. On February 17, 2012, Ulric Neisser died in Ithaca, New York from complications from Parkinson’s neurodegenerative disease.
Most Relevant Contributions to the Field of Psychology
As we have already argued, Neisser stood out for his studies in the field of cognitive psychology, even considering himself the father of this psychological branch. In particular, he focused on the research of perception and attention, memory, and in the last years of his professional career he focused on the knowledge of intelligence. Let’s see what were its main contributions and what the author has come up with.
1. Blindness from lack of attention
Some of the processes necessary to be able to encode information and thus be able to work with and store it are perception and attention, one must be attentive to the stimuli in order to be aware of them and be able to remember them later. To test the extent of perceptual and attentional ability, Neisser and his research group conducted a study that presented a recording showing people in black and white T-shirts playing basketball.
Well, the premise given to the subjects is that they have to pay attention to the passes made by the targeted players. It has been observed that most attendees couldn’t spot a lady with an umbrella crossing the field during the recording.
In this way, it was emphasized that people are able to focus our attention on a specific point in our environment, ignoring all other information. This effect is known as blindness due to lack of attention.
As we have seen, Neisser was interested in the study of memory. It was in 1981 when the psychologist introduces the concept of episodic memory for the first time following the controversial John Dean testimony case. This type of memory is related to memories of everyday life events, autobiographical information with a specific place and time, such as remembering what we did last weekend.
Neisser argued that the memory process is active, which means that we do not remember information as it happened, but other factors also influence, such as emotions or information. that we already had before. Thus, the author stated that Dean’s intention in giving a distorted testimony was not lying, it is because we build memory by gathering information from other past experiences without our being aware of it.
Flash memory refers to the memory of an event related to an emotion. These memories can refer to events that are more personal or experienced by a larger number of people, such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.
It was believed that this memory was more powerful and would remember better than any other type of memory. Neisser disagreed with this claim, so he conducted a study on subjects who had been present or heard the news of the 1989 California earthquake. The results were as follows: the event was more important and remained more unchanged without distortion compared to those who had only been listeners.
The psychologist concluded that flash memory was just as erratic as other types of memory, but the more the subject was involved in the event, the better he remembered the event.
- Cutting, J. (2012) Ulric Neisser (1928-2012) American psychologist.
- Neisser, U. (2017) Cognitive Psychology. Classic Edition of Psychology Press.
- Neisser, U, and Libby, LK (2000) Remembering Life Experiences. The Oxford Handbook of Memory.